I am a linguist who loves literature and who is fascinated by science. I quantify randomness. I paint. I travel in a power wheelchair, hoping to capture the ordinary.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Death and affect in the sub-tropics

One difficult thing about living in Florida--over three years now--is my sensation that the roots are missing. Instead, I find myself in a pulsating jungle, where the life and death smell hot and shocking for a Northwestern sapling gone astray. (image, right, from "History & Images of North Florida", Images, D. Penney, 2003") Lizards scurry in front of shuffling feet; armadillos lie, furry bellies exposed, shells cracked and bleeding; irises pop up out of sidewalk cracks; moss hangs orange in the setting sun. Grasshoppers as big as my hand. Owls, hawks and vultures. Spiders. Waiting for the inevitable. Nothing lasting long enough to resist the next hurricane. Uprooted, start again.

The relationships to people, too, here, feel that way. Only after these three years, do I feel roots entangled in mine, have I made connections that do not feel haphazard. (Am I talking about the fibers in Avatar? Maybe.) Yet affect has sprouted from the sandiest regions of my heart; I have better things to do than grow roots in this little landing strip! Even when we know it is all temporary, we can't help ourselves from clinging to the nearest solid bit around.

This week, my friend's young step-daughter died, circumstances unclear. Alone. Death in Florida, and one of my solid bits is crumbling beside me/within me. I hold on by growing deeper roots around the one left living. Holding off the inevitable.

Another recent death, much more distant in terms of relationships but much closer in terms of personal identification, was that of the singer-songwriter Vic Chesnutt. This week, his tune "Florida" feels particularly apt:

Suicide is not for me right now. The balance of affect and intolerability still weighs in on the side of staying around to see what happens, of not blowing away too soon, uprooting lives attached to mine.

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